Nanny, Boggs, Kay

Legacy & Vision — A tribute to my mentors

What contribution is my life making to this world? What is my life’s purpose? What is my legacy going to be? These essential questions loom large for many of us. I’ve been reflecting on legacy a lot more recently, because of three particular long-living women that have influenced and inspired me. One is my beloved grandmother, Barbara Hayden, who passed away a couple months ago at the age of 101, after a lifetime of dedicated civic engagement and philanthropy. Another is my dear and respected mentor, Kay Bullitt, who just celebrated her 90th birthday this year. Kay is a well-known Seattle activist, philanthropist and grand convener of important global and local social justice causes. My third is a woman that I never met, but I am so inspired by her life story. Grace Lee Boggs is a true American revolutionary and civil rights leader, who just passed away this past week at the age of 100! All of these women were living big Vision (and in the case of Kay, is still at it!) on a daily basis. All are inspiring examples for me about what it means to live a long and abundant life with dedication and commitment to making this world a better place.

My grandmother (“Nanny”, as I called her) passed away with a healthy body and sharp mind until her last days on this earth. She was a dedicated teacher, mother, grandmother, community leader and philanthropist. I love that even at the age of 100, she was still volunteering at a local public school to teach reading skills to underserved youth. She and her life partner, my Grandfather, were big contributors and believers in the power of education. Besides all of the educational initiatives they supported around the world, they also very generously helped pay for the college education for all their four grandchildren! That has truly been the gift of a lifetime for me. It has inspired me to dedicate much of my life’s work to creating educational opportunities for those with the least access. What I learned from Nanny, as it relates to Vision, is the daily practice of being one’s best self. She role modeled for me a life well lived and a very generous spirit. Very simply, Nanny believed that living with intention today, in this moment, is the best way to ensure that we are living the legacy we want to leave behind (because we are already doing it!). She benefited greatly from her own educational opportunities and world travels, and this is where she focused her own philanthropic and community activism in second half of her life. And even bigger than her many accomplishments, her gift to others was the broad smile and how her eyes lit up, whenever she saw you! She continued to live that daily practice of intentional joie de vivre for 101 years — and that legacy and inspiration continues to live on in my own heart and spirit.

My “adopted grandmother”, as I think of her, is my mentor, Kay Bullitt. I met her in 2002, when I asked her to be a founding Board member of the social venture I started called OneWorld Now!. She is a well-known and highly respected community leader, often described as a education reformer, civil rights and peace activist, citizen diplomat, historic preservationist, and philanthropist. I was honored that she jumped at the opportunity to bring OneWorld Now! into our community and the world. And what I loved most, is that she was always keenly interested in the lives of our students. She always sought out opportunities to meet with our high school students, hear their stories and encourage them directly! Over the years, Kay and I formed a deep bond and had our own tradition of sharing breakfast together once a month. It was always poached eggs that she made and muffins that I brought. We would then sit in her charming breakfast nook, overlooking her gigantic, picturesque grassy-green backyard where thousands of fundraisers have been hosted, over a decade of Middle East Peace Camps and 50 years of summer community picnics. We shared these special storytelling breakfast sessions almost every month for years (until I moved to San Francisco last year). Kay is very humble about all her many impressive accomplishments and contributions to the world, and they are too many to mention here. But what I love most about her, is her way of being. Like my grandmother, her daily practice of being her best self, taking daily actions to make this world a better place, is inspiration to just to be around. Her soft-spoken, authentic, generous, yet very determined and value-centered committed way of being taught me that legacy and living big Vision are best from the inside out.

Last week, I watched the film about the life story of the inspirational American revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs. Boggs spent her life as a civil rights activist, author, feminist, philosopher and leader in the black power movement. She too (like my Nanny) was still active in the mind, body and spirit at the age of 100, and continuing to live her life’s purpose on a daily basis. Just three days after watching the film about her life-story, I learned that Grace Lee Boggs had passed away. Again, I was forced to reflect on legacy and purpose, thinking about her life story. It inspired me to examine how Vision relates to revolution. Living one’s Vision and manifesting it in the world, often feels like a revolution of sorts, within ourselves and to those in the world.

A rebellion is important, we said, because it throws into question the legitimacy and supposed permanence of existing institutions. A revolution, however, requires that a people go beyond struggling against oppressive institutions and make a evolutionary/revolutionary leap towards becoming more self-conscious, more self-critical, more socially responsible human beings. In order to transform the world, we/they must transform our/themselves. — Grace Lee Boggs

Boggs spent an entire century living her Vision as a daily practice, and I only hope her legacy will become more widely recognized in the generations ahead. We should be so lucky to live so long, so well, and so intentionally in alignment with our Visions, as these three women have taught me. All of them remind me that Living one’s Vision is indeed a daily practice that combines our actions, our intentions and our ways of being with each other. If we were each so blessed to be given an entire century to live and contribute to this world, what would we want that to look like, feel like, be like and how would would we want people to remember us?

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